Rare orchids, little-known treasures of Chios, suffer from human activities

They say that when you go into the wild you should leave nothing but your footprints and take nothing away except photographs. Few are as conscientious about this as Pantelis Saliaris, head of the technical services for municipalities in the prefecture of Chios. Born and bred in Chios, he is motivated by a love for nature as a member of the Hellenic Foundation for the Protection of Nature and a desire to preserve the unique landscape of his island. He has been compiling a photographic record of its flora for the past 15 years. His latest book, «The Orchids of Chios,» published by the Municipality of Kardamilon, is the history of a treasure which could be lost before it is truly discovered. There are 102 species of orchid on Chios, and 250 throughout Europe, many of which are rare. Anacamtis pyramidalis, Dactylorhiza romana and Gymnodemnia conopsea are just a few of the many orchids to be found on Chios. They grow among bushes, forest clearings, olive groves, rocks, at the edges of fields and roads, in fallow fields and meadows. Northern Chios has been included in the Natura program due to its wealth of flora. Saliaris was president of the organizing committee for Ophrys 2005, an international congress on self-sown orchids held April 13-16 on Chios. He said many of the varieties which once flourished on the island are dying out. The main causes include destruction by fire, land clearing, drainage work, road building, and illegal grazing. People also harm the flowers by cutting their blooms or using the bulbs to make a special drink. Further havoc has been wreaked by climate changes such as prolonged drought. In many European countries, self-sown orchids are protected by law but Greece has no such policy. «The greatest disappointment is when I visit orchid habitats and see they’ve been dug up or that fertilizers have been used,» Saliaris told Kathimerini. «People don’t realize that these are rare plants. Most people don’t want them because they can’t be cultivated. But I get upset because they are our heritage, the dowry of Chios.» The treasure of Chios remains unknown to the islanders. That is why Saliaris aimed his book not only at specialists, to whom he gives information about the species that grow on Chios, but to the Chiotes themselves. He wants to introduce them to their island’s natural environment. But he doesn’t stop there. «I often go to schools and clubs, hold seminars and talk to people about the flowers of our island,» he says. «There is a response, especially from children. At the end of every slide show they ask lots of serious questions. It’s as if an unknown world has suddenly opened up in front of them.» When did this world first reveal itself to him? When he was very young, his father gave him his first camera. «At first I started taking photos of the flowers in our garden,» he said. «Then I went out and found that the wild flowers on the island were much more exciting.»